RTE: Will you explain why, since China has hundreds of new martyrs, that
you haven't followed the old custom of using their Chinese names so that we
would have new names added to the list of saints and martyrs that could be
used as baptismal names.
IOANNIS: In China, saints' names are used in both the Catholic and the
Orthodox churches. Of course, the Protestants have no tradition of using
saints' names, but both Catholic and Orthodox Christians use double
names. We use the Christian name in church, to receive Holy Communion,
baptism, marriage, but in school, at work, in official documents we always
use our Chinese name. A few people use their Christian name (their saint's
name) in Chinese translation as their legal name, but this is unusual.
Also, in the Chinese language every symbol or "letter," every character is
one syllable, so usually, most of the Chinese family names are just one syllable, like Li, or Wong, or Chang. A few of them have two symbols. For the
given name, we use one or two, but never three.
So, there would never be more than four syllables in any full name.
IOANNIS: Yes. If someone uses more than four syllables, he is usually from
Tibet or Mongolia. It is also very strange to use the Chinese translation of a
saint's name in social life. It would be as if in Russia, a Russian called himself Mike instead of Mikhail or Misha.
RTE: Yes, it wouldn't work. I understand about the size of the names, but in
early Christian tradition, for example, if someone was baptized John, and
their civil, pre-Christian name had been Achilles, if they were martyred, their
original name was added to the pool of names that could be picked from for
baptism. Their original non-Christian name was sanctified by their death.
IOANNIS: Of course, but in the Chinese tradition we cannot use the family
name such as Chang. You couldn't baptize someone by his family name; it
would be like baptizing someone Smith. As for the first name, in China
when you respect someone, you do not use his first name again, you avoid
using it. For us, not to use the first name again is a sign of respect. In the
West it is the other way around.
Also, in traditional Chinese families, like my own, we never say the first
name of our parents or grandparents aloud. When my grandfather was alive
and he had to write the symbol that was the name of his mother or father,
he wrote this symbol a little differently. For example, instead of Maria, he
would have written Mari…, without the last letter. He said, "I so respect my
father and grandfather that I don't repeat their names or even write them."
People reading it understood that he did this out of respect. Now it is only
the old people who keep the custom of not writing the name. The young
people laugh at them, but this is why we don't use the martyrs' given names.
Also, we don't want to have people in the village or in the school with the
RTE: How do you come up with names?
IOANNIS: My Chinese name was given to me by my grandfather. Before my
birth, he went through the dictionary and found two symbols to name me.
Now, my grandmother says that my name was from a dream he had, but he
always said, "Don't you believe that old woman!" (laughter). Nevertheless,
Grandmother said that he had a dream of the sun rising over a high mountaintop, and after this he named me Eu Fan, the first of which means "to
shine," and the second, "from the top of the mountain."
We feel very strongly about having a unique name and every couple wants
their child to have something very special. Even if the baby is several years
old, if the parents find someone else with the name they have chosen, they
will rename the child. You hope that in your city there will be no copies, but
not everyone is educated enough to come up with an original name and
many characters in the language do not work as names. You do sometimes
find people of the same name, but parents try to create something unique
and beautiful for each child.
Some people even try to make new Christian names. Just as Dorotheos is
"Gift of God," I have heard Chinese Christian names like Philangelos, "Friend
of the Angels," or "Stavroforos," which means, "Cross-bearer." This is in
Greek, of course, but we also do it in Slavonic. Also, we use names that are
rarely given in the West except to monks, like the Old Testament prophets:
Jeremiah, Zechariah, Isaac. Another example is the subdeacon Papias (Papi
in Chinese), from one of the early disciples of St. John the Theologian.